‘Worse than war’

Indonesia – Sri Lankan soldiers donated blood for tsunami victims in rebel-controlled areas and U.S. Marines brought relief supplies to Indonesia on Wednesday as aid workers gauged the deep emotional damage wrought by the disaster, which has plunged survivors into paralyzing bouts of depression and grief.

The tremendous worldwide effort to feed and shelter survivors and set the stage for the reconstruction of the wide swath of destruction expanded ahead of an international donor conference Thursday in Jakarta, Indonesia. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell toured the hardest-hit area, and said it was worse than a war zone.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard announced his country would provide 1 billion Australian dollars (US$764 million) in grants and loans for neighboring Indonesia, in addition to A$60 million (US$46 million) pledged earlier for affected areas in Asia. That makes Australia the largest single donor in the Asian tsunami disaster, edging out Germany’s raised total of US$662 million for the region, announced earlier. Powell, a Vietnam War veteran, said the wreckage was the worst he had ever seen. The death toll from the Dec. 26 earthquake and the tsunami is spawned was expected to exceed 150,000.

‘I can not begin to imagine the horror that went through the families and all of the people who heard this noise and then had their lives snuffed out by this wave,’ Powell said after flying over flattened villages along Sumatra’s coast, which was home to two-thirds of those killed across Asia.

‘I’ve been in war and I’ve been through a number of hurricanes, tornados and other relief operations, but I’ve never seen anything like this.’

So far US$2 billion (euro1.5 billion) has been pledged to relief efforts in 11 countries hit by the quake off Indonesia’s west coast that triggered waves causing deaths as far away as East Africa.

But the challenges are enormous, with millions homeless and threatened by disease. The United Nations said it will build camps on Sumatra for up to 500,000 people.

Survivors and others expressed gratitude for aid from the United States, which rushed Navy ships to Indonesia.

Some said it could help America’s tattered image in the Muslim world. ‘America is the police of the world. But at the same time, they are helping us,’ said Mohamed Bachid Madjid.